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Friday Forum: What Do You Want From a Literary Award?

Jeff O'Neal

CEO and co-founder

Jeff O'Neal is the executive editor of Book Riot and Panels. He also co-hosts The Book Riot Podcast. Follow him on Twitter: @thejeffoneal.

In Friday Forum, we take an issue or idea that’s being discussed around the bookish web and open it up for discussion. 


There’s been a lot of chatter about book awards whipping around the literary internet; The National Book Awards was called irrelevant, just as the Man Booker prize provoked a challenger.

The core of the debate is about what literary awards should do: should they highlight artistic “excellence” or “readability”? How much should these awards take into account the experience of the people who will pick up award-winning books for the simple reason that they won an award? Do we want these good folks to be pleased, challenged, or something else when reading these books?

In typical fashion, the discussion hasn’t been about what readers want; it’s been about what authors and critics want. For my part, I think it’s a bit of a false dichotomy; I expect books that win the highest awards to be both “readable” and “excellent,” to be pleasurable even as they are challenging. Not saying it’s easy, but if you want to be the king, you’ve got to earn the crown?


What about you? What do you want when you pick up an award-winning book? Are you expecting to enjoy it? To learn from it? Do you expect it to be a tougher read? Or something else?